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PI and Civil Litigation

Law - practice - procedure

30 DEC 2014

John Yapp v Foreign & Commonwealth Office [2014] EWCA Civ 1512

John Yapp v Foreign & Commonwealth Office [2014] EWCA Civ 1512
Psychiatric Injury – Personal Injury – Breach of Contract – Breach of Duty of Care
Court of Appeal: Patten LJ, Davis LJ, Underhill LJ

 21 November 2014

 The claimant’s action for damages for psychiatric injury from stress at work was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

 The claimant was the High Commissioner to Belize and in June 2008, a minister in Belize made allegations of inappropriate behaviour and misconduct against the claimant. The claimant was withdrawn from his post and suspended. He subsequently developed psychiatric injury.

 The claimant brought a claim both in contract and in tort against his employers. At first instance, the court held that the claimant had been unfairly withdrawn from his post, that there had been a breach of contract and a breach of the duty by the employer and so awarded for the claimant.

 On appeal, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (‘FCO’) submitted firstly that the withdrawal of the claimant from his post was not unfair and secondly that the claimant’s psychiatric illness was too remote to allow him to recover compensation.

 The Court of Appeal upheld that the trial judge’s initial decision that the withdrawal of the claimant had been unfair.

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On the issue of remoteness, the court noted that, following Hatton v Sutherland [2002] EWCA Civ 76, [2002] ICR 613 to recover psychiatric injury from a breach of common law duty of care it must have been reasonably foreseeable that the employer's acts or omissions would cause psychiatric injury to the claimant. If the injury was reasonably foreseeable then remoteness would not be an issue.

However, in relation to claims based purely on breach of contract (whether implied or express), the test of remoteness would apply.

Despite this, the Court of Appeal found that the employer’s behavior, although unfair, was not troubling enough to have rendered it foreseeable that their conduct would lead to the claimant developing psychiatric injury. Such an injury would not usually be foreseeable unless there were indications to the employer that the employee was particularly vulnerable to psychiatric injury: Johnson v Unisys Ltd [2001] UKHL 13 [2003] 1 AC 518 followed.

A useful summary from the Court of Appeal on the test of foreseeability and remoteness in relation to psychiatric injury cases. A further warning for claimant lawyers that liability for ‘stress at work’ cases are exceptionally difficult to establish.

Joseph Carr & Jodee Mayer, Anthony Gold